Close to home #8 Stanthorpe
It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation, closer to home, is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all within a couple of hours’ drive of our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.
The small town of Stanthorpe, at the centre of south-east Queensland’s Granite Belt, is a popular tourist destination all year round. More than 12 000 people visit the area during “Brass Monkey Season” over the winter months; cosy chalets and blazing log fires keep the below zero chill of frosty nights at bay. When it comes to summer escapes, Stanthorpe is equally attractive because of the mild temperatures – usually 5 to 7 degrees cooler than the coast with clear blue skies and no humidity. At any time of the year, Stanthorpe’s main attraction is wine; there are more than 50 wineries on the Granite Belt and cellar doors offer tastings all year round. But what do visitors to Stanthorpe do if they’re not into wineries, or they’ve already tasted the wines the region has to offer?
The alternative is to go nude! The Granite Belt Nude Food Trail is a self-drive route that will satisfy the most demanding foodie; nude food is regional and seasonal, with low food miles. There are seven themed routes on the trail, covering 23 local outlets ranging from breweries to butcheries. Whether you have a sweet tooth or a hankering for cheese and chutney, there’s something for everyone.
Sutton’s Juice Factory, Cidery and Distillery, 13 km north of Stanthorpe, is a good starting point for a day of nude food exploration. The factory is surrounded by apple orchards; from February to June the trees are loaded with fruit.
The apples are processed onsite and made into cider, brandy, juice and cider vinegar which can be sampled and purchased in the farm shop. At the Shed Café, the menu focuses on home-style cooking with a range of seasonal dishes including their signature dish, homemade apple pie with spiced apple cider ice cream. The waitress takes orders and gives advice at the same time. Her suggestion is to share a slice of pie and she’s right. It’s a generous serve, warm and cinnamon-scented.
At Granite Belt Dairy Farmhouse Cheese, just a few minutes away from Sutton’s, there are seven artisan cheeses to taste. The cheeses are made from the milk of the farm’s herd of Jersey cows and sold in the dairy shop billed as Queensland’s highest and coldest, with an elevation of 925 metres and winter minimums of -15°C. Even in mid-summer, day time temperatures can be mild. What’s not mild is the flavour of the cheeses, which varies according to the weather and the seasons. Cold weather gives the cows’ milk a more intense flavour while lush pasture after rain enhances the colour of the cheese.
Next door to the cheese shop is Jersey Girls Café, serving homemade meals with cheese as the main ingredient. The food miles here are negligible. Cheese maker Karen tells visitors: “If the food in the café isn’t grown on our farm, it comes from the next door neighbours.”
One of those neighbours is Castle Glen Distillery, home of Cedric Millar, Queensland’s only whiskey distiller. His whiskey, aged for a minimum of two years and made without additives, is just one of Castle Glen’s beverages. He also produces beer, wine and award winning liqueurs.
The showroom glows with a kaleidoscope of jewelled colours when the sun shines through stained glass windows onto the specially handcrafted bottles of liqueur. Cedric’s wife Carol-Anne encourages visitors to taste his products. When asked which drink is her favourite, she ponders before answering. “I do like a splash of soda water with some musk stick liqueur on a warm summer evening. It’s light and refreshing. In winter, I can’t go past the coffee and whiskey crème liqueur.”
If beer is the beverage of choice, Granite Belt Brewery, five minutes south of Stanthorpe, is a must on the itinerary. Guests can see one of six handcrafted beers being created in the microbrewery. The craft beers complement the fresh country menu of the Homestead Restaurant where the waitress recommends the Brewers Platter, a four course degustation meal. “Each course is matched with a different beer; even the dessert, chocolate truffle cake with a strawberry and basil salsa, comes with a glass of Pozieres Porter!”
The strawberries in the salsa are grown at Strawberry Fields, five km further south on the New England Highway. From October to May, when it’s pick-your-own season, plump red berries glisten between the leaves of hundreds of strawberry plants. Visitors can fill a basket as they wander, or for those who don’t want to go to the effort of harvesting, the café sells tubs of freshly picked berries and strawberry flavoured treats. Guests can relax on the terrace next to the strawberry field watching others do the work, while enjoying traditionally made strawberry ice cream, parfaits or pancakes.
If there’s time, stay in Stanthorpe for a few days. There are many more places on the Nude Food Trail but it’s neither possible nor practical to try to see them all in one day. Take the opportunity to sample the offerings of a few outlets each day and buy some supplies for later. Then leave with a carload of gourmet treats and your clothes still on – the food is the only thing nude in Stanthorpe.
*This story originally appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer Magazine, February/March 2016.